TL;DR – Somewhere deep down in the heart of this film there is a good message, we need to value our teachers more, unfortunately, that message is drowned out with some really problematic script choices.
Score – 2 out of 5 stars
So, to be honest, I was not expecting much from Fist Fight, it is one of those films that you can kind of get the sense of whether or not you are going to enjoy it from watching the trailer, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, as I am always an optimist. But wow where to begin, in many respects Fist Fight is one of the more problematic films that I have seen in quite a while, but also there is a good message in there somewhere, it’s a difficult film to approach. So with this review, I’m going to set the scene and then talk about its positives, because there are some, and then I’ll break down why I found it to be so problematic.
So it is the last day of School for the year and the seniors are pulling their last day pranks, this creates a living hell for all the teachers just trying to get through the day. The big issue, and the one that the students are oblivious to, is that on the last day each of the teachers are reapplying for their jobs next year, and the School authorities are looking to cut as much as they can get away with. Now, this I can sympathise with because I know what it is like to have to reapply each semester for a teaching position, never knowing if you will get it or not, it is a very unpleasant feeling. So in walks Andy (Charlie Day) an English teacher whose wife has a baby due any moment, who is trying to just make it through the day and into the next year because he needs his job for his family sake. But while the rest of the School is running riot, there is one teacher they do not mess with Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), who take zero nonsense from his students … because he is strict. To cut the story short, inevitably teachers are getting fired left, right, and centre, and thus fate brings Andy and Ron together where Andy promptly rats out Ron to save his job. So instead of dealing with this like adults, Ron states that at the end of the day that they will fight it out and so #TeacherFight is on.
So as I said before I move on I do want to take a moment to talk about some of the things that did work in Fist Fight because there were some good aspects. Firstly, while there are some issues, both Ice Cube and Charlie Day are acting their collective buts off here. Indeed most of the cast is at least giving their most, I mean they are not being given much to work with but what there is they are going a great job. Also props to Alexa Nisenson who plays Andy’s daughter Ally, for a really good entry into the talent show. As well as this, the final fight is well executed and really works from a technical level, even if you can see when they are using stunt doubles in places and that they used CGI for the crowd shots. Finally, and most importantly at the heart of the film is the notion that we need to treat our teachers better, and with this, I full heartily agree.
Ok, so the question here if not what was the problematic aspect of the film but which was the most problematic aspect. Now I know some people will say, ‘it’s just a comedy, you shouldn’t take it seriously’ but for me, the fact a lot of these things were turned into jokes or used for comedic effect actually makes it worse. Now I’m not saying that you can’t use humour to take a satirical look at an important issue (like The Interview), or to use humour to shine a light on a problem (like a lot of Mel Brooks career). However, this is not what is happening here, they are just a punchline and that makes it worse.
The first big issue is the subtext, and sometimes the literal text, that you are not a man if you don’t fight. Throughout the movie comments are thrown at Andy like ‘Man up’, ‘act like a real man’. It this notion that violence is what separates boys from men, that you are effeminate if you don’t fight, it is such a bad message to sell. To be a man you have to be violent is what is at the core of Fist Fight, and I’m sorry but no that is not what ‘being a man’ is all about, and indeed it is part of the problem that sees suicide being one of the biggest killers of young men in countries like the United States¹. It is also a factor that leads to increased violence especially when amplified by alcohol or illicit substances which at one point a teacher suggests Andy buy from a student. What makes things more of an issue is that there is a violent female teacher Miss Monet (Christina Hendricks) who at one point was told to calm down because ‘I’ve got it’. The perpetuation of this outdated notion that masculinity equals violence is deeply problematic.
As well as this, another really problematic area is the sub-plot around Counsellor Holly (Jillian Bell), throughout the movie she constantly expresses the desire to sleep with her students, and this is played for laughs. Ok, where to begin, well for one thing if the roles were reversed and a male teacher was trying to sleep with his female students, it would not be played for laughs, it would be an episode of SVU. The other issue is that even if the student is 18, which the film is unclear about, it is quite probable that they would not be able to give clear consent in that situation given the power differential between them. This is made worse by the fact that Holly is not just a teacher but the guidance counsellor for the school, making the power relationships larger, and the breach of trust worse. All of this is capped off with the fact that at the end of the film with the student, which she has spent the whole filmmaking seemingly untoward advances to, magically hooks up with her because he ‘was playing games’ with her. These issues are at the heart of why the film just does not work for me, sure there other issues like the tacky product placement, gee I wonder if this was made in Georgia, or having a running gag about a student masturbating, etc, but all of these pale in comparison to what are really messed up messages to send to people if you really think about it.
So yes at the heart of Fist Fight there is the good message of we need to help out our teachers, it is for the most part well-acted, and many aspects of the film are competently produced. However, all of these things to not out way the more problematic aspects of the film, and some more thought should have really gone into this film before it got to the production phase. In the end, I cannot recommend Fist Fight, there are a lot of other films out there at the moment and I recommend that you go see one of them like Logan if you are looking for an entertaining hour and a half.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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¹ Source: CDC
Directed by – Richie Keen
Screenplay by – Van Robichaux & Evan Susser
Story by – Van Robichaux, Evan Susser & Max Greenfield
Music by – Dominic Lewis
Cinematography by – Eric Alan Edwards
Starring – Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Dean Norris, Kumail Nanjiani, JoAnna Garcia & Dennis Haysbert
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R